On Tuesday, Dec. 20, Orange County Animal Services received two positive rabies results from the North Carolina Rabies Laboratory. One was for a skunk that was submitted because it was found dead in the pen of a dog at a residence on N.C. 57 several miles north of Hillsborough. The other was submitted because two household dogs had a deceased raccoon in their mouths at a Hurdle Mills residence in the vicinity of Hawkins Road and N.C. 86.
As a result of the positive test results, communicable disease nurses from Orange County’s Health Department have contacted the dogs at both households to evaluate their risk of rabies exposure. The concern in these cases is the possibility of secondary exposure since residents were not bitten by and did not handle the rabid animals.
In the case of the skunk, the dog’s owner patted the dog’s head after discovering the skunk. In the case of the rabid raccoon, the resident handled both dogs in order to get them penned after discovering that they both carried the rabid animal in their mouths. As is always the case, a decision about the post-exposure prophylaxis that protects people from rabies is based upon an assessment of all the factors involved in a situation of this kind.
These two cases underscore the critical importance of a current rabies vaccination. As both dogs were currently vaccinated in the case of the raccoon, they only need to receive a booster shot within 120 hours (five days).
In the skunk case, by contrast, the dog was not currently vaccinated and consequently the owner surrendered the dog for euthanasia. Under North Carolina’s General Statutes, an unvaccinated dog must be destroyed to protect the health of the public unless it can be quarantined for a period of six months. In most instances of this kind, the six month quarantine is cost-prohibitive since it is ordinarily conducted at an approved veterinary establishment.
As with any confirmed rabies case, this one underscores the importance of effective rabies control to ensure the health of people and their animal companions. Animal Services Director Bob Marotto stresses the importance of pet owner responsibility.
"Being sure that your dog or cat is currently vaccinated can be the difference between their life and death when there is a rabies exposure,” he said. “As important as having a current vaccination, knowing to call Animal Services immediately and booster your animal within the 120-hour period required by NC General Statute is also of extreme importance."
These are the 10th and 11th positive rabies results for Orange County in 2011. There were a total of 11 positive cases for Orange County in 2010. The number of rabies cases last year (11) and the year before (12) are far fewer than in preceding years. However, rabies is known to cycle through a host or reservoir species over periods of time. In the case of Orange County, data from the North Carolina State Laboratory of Public Health suggests that this cycling occurs over time periods of several years.
The host species of rabies in our region is raccoon, which is the dominant reservoir species. When any other animal contracts the virus, it is referred to as the spillover effect. The species that are most susceptible to getting rabies from raccoons are skunks, foxes, groundhogs, and dogs and cats.
The other host species of rabies in our own and other areas is the bat. Bats can infect a human without leaving a mark, so anyone finding a bat inside their home or other enclosure where they may have slept should be aware that unknown exposure is possible. If there is any possibility of exposure from a bat, it is critical that Orange County residents immediately contact Animal Services. If an incident should occur outside regular hours of service, an Animal Control Officer should be reached right away through emergency communications (911).
Low-cost rabies vaccination clinic
The 2012 low-cost rabies vaccination clinics have been scheduled and are listed on the Animal Services website. The first clinic will be Saturday, Jan. 28, from 10 a.m. to noon at the Animal Services Center, 1601 Eubanks Road in Chapel Hill. Authorized by North Carolina State law, such clinics provide pet owners with substantial savings on rabies vaccinations while ensuring that pets have a current vaccination. The schedule for low-cost clinics is available on the Animal Services website.
Animal Services now has a video collection of rabies resources from the Global Alliance for Rabies Control available on their website. The videos are broken into short installments and cover the following topics:
• What is rabies?
• What animals are most likely to be rabid?
• Rabies symptoms
• Rabies diagnosis
• Preventing rabies
• World Rabies Day
• Rabies medical research